Why Fighting Was Allowed?
The Muslims were allowed to ﬁght indeed, but what was the object? Not to compel the unbelievers to accept Islam, for it was against all the broad principles in which they had hitherto been brought up. No, it was to establish religious freedom, to stop all religious persecution, to protect the houses of worship of all religions, mosques among them. Here are a few quotations:
“And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down” (22:40).
“And ﬁght them until there is no persecution, and religion is only for Allah” (2:193).
“And ﬁght them until there is no more persecution, and all religions are for Allah” (8:39).
Under what conditions was the permission to ﬁght given to the Muslims? Every student of Islamic history knows that the Holy Prophet and his companions were subjected to the severest persecution, as Islam began to gain ground at Makkah; over a hundred of them ﬂed to Abyssinia, but persecution grew still more relentless. Ultimately, the Muslims had to take refuge in Madinah, but they were not left alone even there, and the sword was taken up by the enemy to annihilate Islam and the Muslims. The Qur’an bears express testimony to this:
“Permission (to ﬁght) is given to those on whom war is made, because they are oppressed. And Allah is able to assist them — those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except that they say: Our Lord is Allah” (22:39, 40 .
Later, the express condition was laid down:
“And ﬁght in the way of Allah against those who ﬁght against you, but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors” (2:190).
The Qur’an, therefore, allowed ﬁghting only to save a persecuted community from powerful oppressors, and hence the condition was laid down that ﬁghting was to be stopped as soon as persecution ceased:
“But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And ﬁght them until there is no persecution” (2:192, 193).
If the enemy offered peace, peace was to be accepted, though the enemy’s intention might be only to deceive the Muslims:
“And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Surely He is the Hearer, the Knower. And if they intend to deceive thee, then surely Allah is sufﬁcient for thee” (8:61, 62).
The Holy Prophet made treaties of peace with his enemies; one such treaty brought about the famous truce of Hudaibiyah, the terms of which were not only disadvantageous, but also humiliating to the Muslims. According to the terms of this treaty “if an unbeliever, being converted to Islam, went over to the Muslims, he was to be returned, but if a Muslim went over to the unbelievers, he was not to be given back to the Muslims”. This clause of the treaty cuts at the root of all allegations of the use of force by the Holy Prophet. It also shows the strong conviction of the Holy Prophet that neither would Muslims go back to unbelief, nor would the new converts to Islam be deterred from embracing Islam because the Prophet gave them no shelter. And these expectations proved true, for while not a single Muslim deserted Islam, a large number came over to Islam, and, being refused shelter at Madinah, formed a colony of their own in neutral territory.
It is a mistake to suppose that the conditions related above were abrogated at any time. The condition to ﬁght “against those who ﬁght against you” remained in force to the last. The last expedition led by the Holy Prophet was the famous Tabuk expedition, and every historian of Islam knows that, though the Prophet had marched a very long distance to Tabuk at the head of an army of thirty thousand, yet, when he found that the enemy did not fulﬁl the condition laid down above, he returned, and did not allow his troops to attack the enemy territory. Nor is there a single direction in the latest revelation on this subject, in ch. 9, The Immunity, that goes against this condition. The opening verse of that chapter speaks expressly of “idolaters with whom you made an agreement”, and then, v. 4., excepts from its purview “those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up anyone against you”, thus showing clearly that the “immunity” related only to such idolatrous tribes as had ﬁrst made agreements with the Muslims and then, violating them, killed and persecuted the Muslims wherever they found them, as v. 10 says expressly: “They respect neither ties of relationship nor covenant in the case of a believer”. Such people are also spoken of in an earlier revelation: “Those with whom thou makest an agreement, then they break their agreement every time, and they keep not their duty” (8:56). Further on, in ch. 9, the condition of the enemy attacking the Muslims ﬁrst is plainly repeated: “Will you not ﬁght a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Messenger, and they attacked you ﬁrst?” (9:13). So from ﬁrst to last, the Holy Qur’an allowed ﬁghting only against those who fought the Muslims ﬁrst; it allowed expressly only ﬁghting in defence without which the Muslims could not live and it clearly forbade aggressive war. The waging of war on unbelievers to compel them to accept Islam is a myth pure and simple, a thing unknown to the Holy Qur’an. It was the enemy that waged war on the Muslims to turn them away from their religion, as the Holy Book so clearly asserts: “And they will not cease ﬁghting you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can” (2:217).
Additional information from other sources
Among the key Quranic verses pertainging to defensive war are 2:190-194; 2:216-217; 3:116-156; 4:75; 5:13; 8:5; 8:38-39; 8:61; 9:1-15; 9:1-15; 9:29; 9:111; 10:109; 22:39-40; 22:52; 42:40; 47:4; 60:8-9, though there are others.
Also read 42:48; 2:256; 13:40; 5:48; 5:92 and 88:21-23.